Cover of Governing China
Governing China's Population
From Leninist to Neoliberal Biopolitics
Susan Greenhalgh and Edwin A. Winckler


412 pages.
from $30.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9780804748797
Paperback ISBN: 9780804748803
Ebook ISBN: 9780804767217


Excerpts and More

China's giant project in social engineering has drawn worldwide attention, both because of its coercive enforcement of strict birth limits, and because of the striking changes that have occurred in China's population: one of the fastest fertility declines in modern history and a gender gap among infants that is the highest in the world. These changes have contributed to an imminent crisis of social security for a rapidly aging population, provoking concern in China and abroad. What political processes underlie these population shifts? What is the political significance of population policy for the PRC regime, the Chinese people, and China's place in the world?

The book documents the gradual "governmentalization" of China's population after 1949, a remarkable buildup of capacity for governance by the regime, the professions, and individuals. Since the turn of the millennium the regime has initiated a drastic shift from "hard" Leninist methods of birth planning toward "soft" neoliberal approaches involving indirect regulation by the state and self-regulation by citizens themselves. Population policy, once a lagging sector in China's transition from communism, is now helping lead the country toward more modern and internationally accepted forms of governance. Governing China's Population tells the story of these shifts, from the perspectives of both regime and society, based on internal documents, long-term fieldwork, and interviews with a wide range of actors—policymakers and implementers, propagandists and critics, compliers and resisters.

This study also illuminates the far-reaching consequences for China's society and politics of deep state intrusion in individual reproduction. Like Mao's Great Leap Forward, Deng's one-child policy has created vast social suffering and human trauma. Yet power over population has also been positive and productive, promoting China's global rise by creating new kinds of "quality" persons equipped to succeed in the world economy. Politically, the PRC's population project has strengthened the regime and created a whole new field of biopolitics centering on the production and cultivation of life itself.

Drawing on approaches from political science and anthropology that are rarely combined, this book develops a new kind of interdisciplinary inquiry that expands the domain of the political in provocative ways. The book provides fresh answers to broad questions about China's Leninist transition, regime capacity, "science" and "democracy," and the changing shape of Chinese modernity.

About the authors

Susan Greenhalgh is population specialist and Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. She was formerly China specialist and Senior Associate at the Population Council. Edwin A. Winckler is a political scientist and Research Scholar at the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University. The authors have served as advisors to the U.S. Government and the U.N. on Chinese population policy.

"The rise of China is one of the most significant trends of the twenty-first century. Governing China's Population is a must-read for anybody who is interested in how Chinese politics and society are changing, and how the U.S. can engage China to move toward international rules and practices. The authors' groundbreaking work will change the way China's population policies and politics are understood in the United States."

—Lee Hamilton, President, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and former Chairman, House Committee on International Relations

"It is not possible in the space of a short review to do justice to the richness of the tapestry woven in this book."

Economic and Political Weekly

"Governing China's Population offers a remarkably innovative and revealing interdisciplinary analysis of the emergence of China's population as a problem of government. The book's main argument—supported by both extensive documentation and exceptional ethnographic access—affirms Foucault's sense of the importance of 'population' as a central object of modern government, while confronting those who would hastily (and Eurocentrically) 'globalize' Foucault with a challenging and vividly described case of a quite different historical configuration of power."

—James Ferguson, Stanford University

"In this highly informative book, Greenhalgh and Winckler demonstrate the changing ways in which the population as an object of state intervention has played a central, if changing, role in China's arts of governmentality. Extending Foucault's concept of biopolitics to a major new terrain, the book opens new understandings, new questions, and new challenges."

—Paul Rabinow, University of California at Berkeley

"China's transformation from high to very low fertility in less than a generation may be the most successful state social engineering project in history, but at the same time it constitutes an ethical nightmare. In this impressive volume, Susan Greenhalgh and Edwin Winckler lay bare as never before both the politics behind the evolution of mandatory family planning in China and its disastrous social consequences."

—Martin K. Whyte, Harvard University

"In discussing the shifting approaches to governance that have conditioned the policy domain of birth planning, they combine the historical institutionalist approach of political science with the discursive-critical approaches of anthropology in order to understand how policy changes impacted the peasant family economy."

Reference & Research Book News

"It is a deeply interesting source of information about the complex evolution of population policy in China. It will be very helpful in its own right, as well as forming the basis for a wide range of followup academic studies, particularly by Chinese scholars."

Population and Development Review

"...the most comprehensive and sophisticated exploration of the PRC's birth planning programme to date."

Pacific Affairs

"Governing China's Population is an outstanding and thought-provoking accomplishment certain to inspire methodological and analytical innovation among students and researchers of China."

The China Journal

"...this is an admirable piece of work, very informative and well organized..."

The China Quarterly

"Governing China's Population illuminations far greater complexity about birth policies than the debate in the United States ever recognizes, presenting for example the extent of internal Chinese debate about these inequities and efforts to correct them."


"This is an important book. Greenhalgh and Winckler tell a fascinating story about the past and present extent of the influence of China's population policies."

Studies in Family Planning

"Reading Governing China's Population is like stepping through a window; it provides a view not completely available before. It is a view crafted by scholars with exceptional access to source materials that illuminate the political and human complexities of the most ambitious and extraordinary population policy of our day."

Population Studies

"The authors of Governing China's Population present a comprehensive analysis of population policy since 1949, relying on theories and methods from political science and anthropology, especially the biopower theory of the French philosopher Michel Foucault. This is by far the most thorough and systematic analysis of the topic approach from a political science perspectives."

—Fan Wu, East Asian Science, Technology, and Society: An International Journal